rc 8.5 street sign 090619

The sign for Roanoke’s 8 1/2 Street Southeast preserves some obscure history.

Time now to turn once again to topics of town and country.

Q: Why is there a street sign across from the East End Shops on Norfolk Avenue next to 8th Street Southeast labeled 8 ½ Street?

John Kessler


A: Upon suggestion of Mark Jamison, city transportation department manager, we turned to the real estate GIS map at Roanoke’s home page.

By clicking the quadrant in which 8 ½ Street is found, then examining any individual lot on that street, additional information becomes available. The name of the property owner and address comes up. In the lower right corner of the window is a link offering more detail about the lot.

Exploration from there takes us to several columns of more details. The column to the far right marked “additional information” includes a link to engineering maps and plans. Plats from 1888, when the subdivision was called the Edgewood Addition, and 1911 may then be accessed.

The earlier plat lists the original street names: Edgewood (8th), Camden (8 ½), and Fayette (9th). At some point between 1888 and 1911, the numbering system came into play and the original names were discarded.

The current city grid system includes proper names (Norfolk, Tazewell, etc.) for east-west streets and numbers for those that run north-south. Streets that incorporate halves into their numbering add another layer.

For instance, when more numbered streets lie north of an east-west thoroughfare than south of it, a half street must be included.

“Thus, when there are 10 streets coming into the thoroughfare from the south, but 11 streets on the north side, at least one of the streets must then be a half,” emailed Nelson Harris, former city mayor and authority on Roanoke history.

The specifics about the origins of 8½ Street are unclear. Jamison said he could only speculate, a response echoed by Harris.

“My guess for this happening (and it’s strictly a guess) is that one side was developed prior to the other side before there was true city planning in play, creating the offsetting number of streets, as the half streets are in the older sections,” Harris wrote.

“City planning related to street designs really did not come until the early 20th Century,” Harris wrote, “so sections like Southeast and West End (pre-20th Century) tend to have this phenomenon.”

Algoma papers

Leaving the city, we return again to Franklin County, site of the former Guerrant family orchard known as Algoma.

Additional information came to light recently in the University of Virginia’s digital special collections library, where may be found the guide to the papers of John R. Guerrant and the Guerrant family covering the years 1881-1927.

The full collection consists of diaries, other bound volumes, correspondence, photographs, negatives and notes about the collection.

John Guerrant and his brother Samuel, orphaned as children and raised by their maternal aunt, inherited the 5,000-acre farm and orchard when they reached their majority. Both later became doctors and community leaders (John served a term in the state House of Delegates).

Their extended family, according to the introduction for the collection, included such familiar names as Hale, Saunders, Shields, Early, Lewis, Dabney and Ingles, all mentioned in the diaries.

The Ingles include the celebrated Mary Draper Ingles of the “Long Way Home” kidnapping by hostile Indians, subsequent escape and trek from the Ohio Territory back to the New River Valley.

John Guerrant’s wife Katherine Randolph Lee was a member of the Robert E. Lee family.

The 170 photos in the collection are mostly unidentified and include many group shots of family members and scenes from Algoma, says the introduction.

If you’ve been wondering about something, call “What’s on Your Mind?” at 777-6476 or send an email to whatsonyourmind@roanoke.com. Don’t forget to provide your full name (and its proper spelling if by phone) and hometown.

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